Seahawks learned to adapt, win without Harvin

The Seahawks have won more consistently and got back to their basics after trading Percy Harvin five games into the season. The offensive players and coordinator explain how and why that happened.

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The Seattle Seahawks got rid of one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game five weeks into the 2014 regular season, taking a cap hit and essentially admitting that trading for Percy Harvin was a mistake they made in the 2013 offseason.

But immediately after trading Harvin to the New York Jets for a mid-round draft choice after trading away first-, third-, and seventh-round draft picks to obtain Harvin and then signing him to a contract that included $25.5 million in guaranteed money and a $12 million signing bonus, the Seahawks started winning more consistently.

So why did the Seahawks take a big gamble that made them look bad in the short term, and then helped them return to the Super Bowl less than four months later?

“There’s a lot of reasons. But it was just something that at the end it just didn’t end up being a fit for us,” Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said this week as his team prepared for the Super Bowl XLIX.

“I don’t know if I would want to put exactly what it was (that caused the trade). He’s a great player and he did a lot of good things for us. He had a kickoff return in (last year’s) Super Bowl for us. He made a lot of plays along the way. He wasn’t in there a lot, that’s one thing as well. At the end, it just didn’t end up fitting.”

After an injury-plagued 2013 season – his first with Seattle in which he played in only one regular-season game – in five games with the Seahawks this year, Harvin had 22 catches and only 133 yards, averaging only 6 yards per catch.

“I don’t think you can replace Percy Harvin. He is so talented. He is one of a kind. Everyone knows that,” tight end Luke Willson said. “I don’t think there is one person that has replaced Percy Harvin. I just think as a group, offensively, even (offensive) lineman, wideouts, tight ends, running backs, fullbacks and the quarterbacks, we all just created a chemistry where we were able to have some successful games offensively.”

With Harvin, the Seahawks started the 2014 season 3-2. They lost their first game without him, too, but since then they have gone 11-1 on their way to their second straight Super Bowl bid.

It wasn’t an easy decision to trade Harvin, Seahawks general manager John Schneider said, but it sure looks like it was the right one for the chemistry and effectiveness of the team.

“It’s very difficult. You’re talking about a person’s livelihood. We have to do what’s best for the organization, first and foremost,” Schneider said. “We had the support of our owner, which was huge. We had discussed it for a long time with our owner. For one reason or another, it didn’t work out so we had to be able to move forward. So, the Jets got real interested. It was the Thursday night game. I was actually at the University of Missouri, and we were just able to move forward. We played the Rams that weekend.”

“… We had talked about it for a little while, about whether or not it was going to be a great fit. He came in and had a hip issue right away, so we felt bad for him right away. He comes in, wants to make a big difference. Right away, he has to have an operation. Last year was a very trying time for him.”

Bevell, the offensive coordinator who was in the same role with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 and 2010 during Harvin’s first two years in the NFL, supported the notion of bringing Harvin to the Seahawks after Harvin’s run-ins in Minnesota had reached a boiling point and the Vikings were willing to trade him with only one year left on his rookie contract.

“They asked me. I told them what I thought. I was excited to have him,” Bevell said of Seattle trading for Harvin. “I was disappointed that it didn’t work out. I was disappointed because I thought the culture that we had at Seattle was one that any player should be able to thrive in, and to think that it didn’t happen that way was disappointing.”

Since the Seahawks traded him away, there have been reports of Harvin not getting along with certain teammates and a locker room with differing opinions after the Seahawks traded him.

But the trade might have also bonded the players, especially those on offense who were looking for either bigger roles or roles that suited them better with Harvin gone.

“We all felt that we had a point to prove in a way. Percy is a tremendous player and he was tremendously talented and great. He did a lot of great things for us,” Willson said. “We also have some great players on this team this year that you have seen. A lot of guys want to step up and prove that.”

But as much as the locker room dynamics changed without Harvin, so did the offense. One of those changes was getting back to having Marshawn Lynch as the focus, according to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

“We had a lot of things groomed for Percy in the offense, but when he left we just had to adjust,” Jackson said. “We made the proper adjustments and it was so easy – I feel like it was easier for us because we’ve got Marshawn. He’ll handle the football and we’ll play great defense and be efficient in the passing game and make plays. We just got more and more into it as the season went and got more into our running game and giving the ball to Marshawn.”

The statistics prove Jackson’s point. In two of the five games Harvin was with the Seahawks this year, Lynch carried the ball 10 times or fewer. Over the remaining 11 regular-season games without Harvin, Lynch carried the ball fewer than 14 times only once.

Without Harvin on the field, the Seahawks averaged a significant 0.63 yards per carry more than with him on the field in the regular season. Their passing game has also been better without him, averaging 1.41 more yards per pass without him, nearly the highest net yards over average of any player that was on the Seahawks offense this year.

“I think (the trade was) an important thing for our offense and our team,” Bevell said. “He was a hell of player on the field. We all know about his athletic ability and what he can do. It just wasn’t a fit. I think it helped us as a whole and it kind of brought us together.

“… We weren’t necessarily trying to say, ‘OK, I need to make sure he gets this many catches or anything. We still were trying to have him function in this offense. It just seemed to be a struggle.”

In back-to-back games in October – Harvin’s last two games with the Seahawks – quarterback Russell Wilson had his highest rating of the season, 127.3, followed by his lowest, 47.6. His highest yardage total in five games with Harvin was 258, and in his final game with Harvin on the roster Wilson had only 126 yards passing, his lowest of the season. Since then, he has had two games in excess of 300 yards and none lower than 168.

Without him, receivers Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Cooper Helfet and tight end Willson have all become bigger factors in the passing game.

“There’s change a little bit. We were able to get our guys, some of the same guys, back into the spots that they normally played,” Bevell said. “It’s a huge loss when you lose a guy of that talent. We were trying to do a lot with him. We just kind of went back to what we usually do.”

And winning on a consistent basis.

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